Sponsors of the European Tour’s Rolex Series must be asking chief ex-ecutive Keith Pelley hard questions.
I would be if I had shelled out $7 million of my company’s money to sponsor a golf tournament.
The four completed Rolex Series events of 2018 haven’t really delivered in terms of star quality. This series was supposed to bring Europe’s top stars together more often. Yet of the four this year, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson haven’t played one. They make their debut appearances in the 2018 Rolex Series in the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open at Gullane this week.
Sergio Garcia and Paul Casey have each played one Rolex Series event. Casey appeared in the BMW PGA Championship while Garcia played the HNA French Open. Neither is in Scotland this week.
Last week’s Irish Open featured Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy making their second Rolex appearances of 2018. Rahm was in the field as de-fending champion while McIlroy had to play since the event is run in conjunction with his foundation.
Pelley would probably argue this week’s Scottish Open is proof the se-ries is delivering star quality. While Garcia, McIlroy, Casey and Rahm take a week off, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson, Patrick Reed and Hideki Matsuyama join Rose and Stenson. However, these world class stars aren’t in the field because of the $7 million purse. They’re playing to get links experience ahead of the British Open Championship at Car-noustie the following week. Mickelson appeared in 14 Scottish Opens before it became a Rolex Series tournament. Fowler won the 2015 Scot-tish Open when the purse was $3.25 million.
Justin Thomas bolstered the recent French Open at Le Golf National, but he was only there as part of a scouting mission ahead of the Ryder Cup. None of the above “names” appeared in the Italian Open.
Sponsors should have realized by now that raising the prize fund is no guarantee of a star-studded field, albeit they might get a couple of standouts. They’ll probably also have learned they could get a better field by dropping the prize fund and using the money saved to buy a good field with appearance money.
This year’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship only offered a $3 mil-lion purse yet had a stronger field than any of the four Rolex Series events played this season. In fact, it’s had the strongest field of any Eu-ropean Tour event outside the majors and WGC events. The Official World Golf Ranking gave Abu Dhabi a strength of field rating of 351 against 288 for the French Open, 283 for the BMW PGA, 208 for the Italian Open and 201 for the Irish.
A similar scenario played out last year. Abu Dhabi was the second strongest tournament outside the majors and WGCs. Only the Scottish Open had a stronger field, with a 342 rating against 330 for Abu Dhabi. Compare that to 222 for the Turkish Airlines Open and you have to wonder if Turkish Airlines is having second thoughts about Pelley’s Rolex Series.
Abu Dhabi and HSBC rejected the European Tour’s offer to join the Rolex Series when the tour couldn’t guarantee the event as strong a field as it currently gets. Appearance money means big stars turn up in the Middle East at the start of every year. This year’s tournament fea-tured World No. 1 Dustin Johnson, McIlroy, Rose, Stenson, Casey and Matt Kuchar along with the quality European Tour members such as Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Ian Poulter, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Martin Kaymer and Matthew Fitzpatrick.
Pelley will be keen to keep the French Open on the Rolex list after sponsors HNA pulled the plug on funding the tournament. The new sponsor would be better served to follow Abu Dhabi and pay appear-ance fees to get a stronger field, even if the French Golf Federation has been vehemently opposed to appearance money in the past.
That’s what I’d probably do if I had $7 million to spend on a golf tour-nament. Gwk